Abu Dhabi signs deals to boost launch of air taxi services

Electric aircraft maker Joby Aviation signs initial agreement to launch services in UAE capital

Joby Aviation was one of many companies showing off their vision of future transportation at the DriftX mobility exhibition in Abu Dhabi. Photo: Cody Combs
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Abu Dhabi is aiming to bring air taxi services to the emirate's skies in a move that will slash travel time, after several of its government entities signed an initial agreement with electric aircraft maker Joby Aviation.

California-based Joby Aviation on Thursday signed initial agreements with Abu Dhabi's Department of Municipalities and Transport (DMT), Department of Economic Development and Department of Culture and Tourism, as the emirate pushed ahead with plans to boost sustainable mobility.

This will allow the company to set up and grow air taxi services in the UAE capital, with the potential for extending these services between emirates such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Joby said.

Joby aircraft's maximum range of 160km can transport passengers quickly, with a trip from Abu Dhabi to Dubai taking about 30 minutes compared with around two hours by car during rush hour.

"We are ... shaping the future of transportation, igniting a journey where the sky is no longer the limit," said Mohamed Ali Al Shorafa, chairman of DMT.

"We look forward to seeing their innovative aircraft take-off from the UAE capital, offering the world a glimpse, through Abu Dhabi, of what the future of mobility looks like.”

On Thursday, the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) officially granted operational approval for the UAE's inaugural vertiport, as the country develops its advanced air mobility sector.

The UAE aviation regulator had introduced the national regulation on vertiports last March.

The consultancy McKinsey predicts the global electric aircraft market will be worth around $17.8 billion by 2028, with demand for all-electric vehicles likely to grow six-fold by 2030 with about 40 million units sold per year.

Joby Aviation is part of Abu Dhabi's Smart and Autonomous Vehicles Industry (SAVI) cluster that specialises in the development of high-tech vehicles.

The company also has an existing agreement with Dubai's Road and Transport Authority to launch passenger air taxi services in the emirate, which Joby expects to start as early as next year.

The signing with Abu Dhabi on Thursday shows the "incredible momentum" in the UAE for the adoption of sustainable transport, said JoeBen Bevirt, founder and chief executive of Joby Aviation.

"We’re excited to be unlocking the potential for zero-emissions flight between Abu Dhabi and Dubai," he said.

Introducing sustainable and faster transport services in Abu Dhabi will help accelerate tourism and economic growth opportunities for the emirate, its Department of Culture and Tourism said.

The Savi Cluster, where Joby Aviation has regional operations, was announced in October 2023 by the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development to develop smart and autonomous vehicles for air, land and sea use.

"Smart and autonomous vehicles in particular are experiencing rapid growth, buoyed by the launch of the Savi cluster, which leverages Abu Dhabi’s world-class infrastructure to scale the operations of global companies," said Ahmed Jasim Al Zaabi, chairman of Added.

The agreement with Joby Aviation was signed at the DriftX mobility exhibition in the UAE capital.

Abu Dhabi's air taxi push

Abu Dhabi has also pledged to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to support Archer Aviation's air taxi services in the emirate, ahead of the company's plans to start operations by next year.

The California-based eVTOL developer signed a "framework agreement" with Abu Dhabi Investment Office (Adio) on Thursday at the DriftX event, Archer said in a statement.

The deal covers in-country manufacturing of Archer's Midnight aircraft, operations and training across the region, the company said.

Collaboration between Adio and Archer also includes vertiport construction and charging infrastructure for air taxi operations.

Under the pact, Adio will also ensure there are domestic workforce development programmes for Emiratis, and help establish Archer’s international headquarters and centre of excellence in Abu Dhabi.

"This substantial agreement with Abu Dhabi is a pivotal moment for Archer’s commercialisation efforts across the Emirates, as it provides the catalyst to accelerate the launch of our electric air taxi service in the UAE as soon as late 2025," said Adam Goldstein, Archer founder and chief executive.

Archer's Midnight aircraft can carry up to four passengers – plus the pilot – and can fly up to 161km at a maximum speed of 241kph.

The UAE has been leading the region when it comes to developing advanced air mobility, as part of its broader goals for sustainable and smart transport.

Attracting eVTOL companies to the country is also part of its wider goal to develop advanced domestic manufacturing and boost foreign investment.

Abu Dhabi officials on Thursday also announced plans to set up vertiports in strategic locations across the emirate, including major business hubs and tourist destinations.

"Once complete, the vertiport network will be a key enabler of Abu Dhabi’s SAVI cluster," said Abdulla Al Marzouqi, director general of AD Mobility.

Adio, along with the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority and Abu Dhabi Mobility, also unveiled the UAE's first operational vertiport for eVTOLs at DRIFTx.

AD Mobility will regulate the advanced air mobility sector in Abu Dhabi along with the GCAA.

"The GCAA's initiative in establishing the world's first national regulation on vertiports last year paved the way for advanced air mobility in the UAE, ensuring the availability of safe and suitable infrastructure to accommodate eVTOL aircraft," said Saif Al Suwaidi, director general of the GCAA.

The regulation covers design, operations and certification provisions for vertiports on land and at sea.

Updated: April 25, 2024, 4:34 PM